GEORGE GEISE 406mtsports.com
GREAT FALLS – Over the past few decades, one of the biggest sporting weekends of the year in this area has revolved around Father’s Day events.
For more than 40 years, the biggest fast-paced softball tournament of the year has been held at the Multisports Complex over the three-day weekend in June, attracting girls’ teams from all over Montana and Alberta. And it will resume Friday night when 50 squads of girls ages 8 to 18 compete over three days at the Falls Fusion Classic.
But the softball tournament is a relative newcomer to the other Father’s Day event that draws thousands of competitors and fans to Cascade County each year. When the Belt Rodeo takes place Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Little Belt Cowboys Rodeo Ground, it will be the 61st running of the PRCA-sanctioned event.
However, the Father’s Day sports calendar in these regions got really packed this year when the East-West Shrine football game moved its date up a month. Organizers of the Shrine Game – the nation’s longest-running all-star football game for high school graduates – believe the benefits of playing their event in mid-June far outweigh any conflict with other major events. .
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“First and foremost, we were listening to the universities (football coaches) who want their recruits to come to campus this summer,” said John Hayes, a longtime Great Falls Shriner who is presiding over this year’s game. .
“We consistently lost good kids in July because the colleges didn’t want them getting hurt…not a single kid got kicked out this year.”
Another major factor in moving the Shrine Game date by a month or more was the June date that became available when the Mon-Dak All-Star game folded. This game has been played for over 25 years and has used some of the same athletes.
For most of its 75 years, the Shrine Game was played at Memorial Stadium in Great Falls, but about 10 years ago the game began rotating between Butte, Billings and Great Falls. Bringing the event back to Electric City had another huge upside, Hayes said.
“This is our first year hosting the East team at Providence University and everything has gone well,” he said. “They put the kids in three-bedroom apartments with kitchens…it’s really good for the kids.”
The West team has practiced in Butte and will travel to Great Falls on Friday for the annual banquet. As always, the Shriners will hold an entertaining parade Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in downtown Great Falls. The game starts at 7 a.m. at Memorial Stadium and Hayes is expecting a good crowd.
“We’ve pre-sold around 2,500 tickets and the weather is looking good,” he said. “It’s going to be televised statewide (MTN Network) and there’s a lot of radio. I don’t know if it will affect attendance, but a lot of people will know about the game.
Here’s a look at other major events in Cascade County this weekend:
The Falls Fusion Classic will feature 59 teams in the U10, U12, U14, U16 and U18 age groups. Tournament director Keith Kron said all eight diamonds from the multi-sport complex and four from the Fusion complex will be used. The event will require 28 referees, most of them from other cities. A new feature of the tournament will be a home run contest Saturday night around 8 p.m. on court 7.
The Belt Rodeo will have performances Saturday night at 6 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. There will be a parade down Main Street in Belt at 11am on Saturday morning.
The rodeo grounds will welcome more fans after the construction of a new skybox. Dave Anderson is president of the Little Belt Cowboys Association. Belt’s Jeff Marn will be the announcer and the stock contractor is Brookman Rodeo of Sidney.